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[Anime Review] Kill la Kill

So, as anyone who has read any of my anime reviews post-Gurren Lagann will know, I really like Gurren Lagann. However, it turns out the team behind Gurren Lagann made other shows that are a) not Gurren Lagann and b) actually quite good as well. It behooved me to check them out, and so I was recommended the show about a girl who wears a magical brassiere with blood powers: let’s get into Kill la Kill!

Kill la Kill is a visceral, funny, self-aware adventure following a girl known only as Ryuko Matoi, who wields a scissor sword – the person with the scissor blade matching hers killed her father, and her search for the murderer has brought her to Honnouji Academy, a place where nothing is as it seems and the student council president, Satsuki Kiryuin, rules absolutely.

That “nothing is as it seems” isn’t just a generic comment, either; the world of Kill la Kill, and Honnouji Academy specifically, is only tangentially similar to our own world. Students are rigorously classified into different star rankings, from 0-3, and each star ranking dictates the kind of uniforms that a student gets. Ryuko enters the academy as a lower-than-dirt no-star, and soon discovers that the uniforms grant increased physical strength, speed and stamina. This begins to hint at the story behind Kill la Kill: these uniforms are infused with Life Fibers, which are the source of many of the problems for Ryuko and the other protagonists. I’d rather not spoil any more details, but Ryuko’s battle with Satsuki Kiryuin and the hunt for her father’s killer weaves neatly (like, say, a fiber in a uniform) into the story of the Life Fibers and a threat far greater than one murderer wielding half of a scissor sword; one that could even threaten the world.

It’s a fun adventure, despite the dark themes that run through the story. Ryuko soon partners herself with Mankanshoku, a ditzy, distracted yet lovable girl who supports her new friend through thick and thin, and this is what I like the most about Kill la Kill: the characters. Ryuko is a really likeable protagonist, and once she finds a Godrobe left by her father, an outfit that’s even more powerful than the 3-star uniforms of the academy, we’re introduced to another fun character, Senketsu. Senketsu the Godrobe completes a trinity of great protagonists: Ryuko is a wild and impulsive id, who gives in to her anger frequently and is always ready for a fight, whilst Mankanshoku is a distracted superego, who has a deep knowledge of the academy’s culture and attempts to restrain Ryuko when she can, and Senketsu is Ryuko’s ego, who calmly and rationally keeps both her and Mankanshoku alive whilst they battle their way through the various club members and student council members that the academy pits them against.

The villains are just as enjoyable, too; Kiryuin and her student council body are probably my favourite characters in the show, as each one has their own quirks and powers that really make them unique. Kiryuin is one of the most interesting characters in the show; from the moment we meet her, wielding the blade Bakuzan, we understand that she’s a force to be reckoned with, and with each episode following, we learn more about her past and how she recruited each of the four student council members, as well as her motivations, which coincide with Ryuko’s far more than we are initially led to believe. Every one of the greater villains in the show (the lesser villains in the early episodes are alright, but generally unmemorable) allow them to put on a real performance whenever they enter combat with Ryuko.

The combat scenes themselves are the bread and butter of Kill la Kill. Between the comedic scenes of Ryuko’s school life and her exasperation at living with Mankanshoku’s family, there’s intense and visceral scenes of combat. Some of them are truly deserving of the word ‘epic’, especially once Ryuko learns how to wear Senketsu properly and wield her scissor blade with more professionalism; Ryuko’s growth is not just done through her character development, but also through development of her fighting skill throughout. Because she easily dispatches two-star uniform wearers in the early episodes, it becomes a real shock to the watcher when she’s defeated for the first time. It allows us to really sympathise with her quest and gives us a genuine emotional reaction to her being at a disadvantage in a fight. Her character and heart shine through so strongly, even in the non-dialogue heavy scenes, that we can’t help but want her to succeed.

However, being a show by the same team, I can’t help but compare it to Gurren Lagann. Personally, I think both shows are worth watching, but there are some areas where one show is better than the other. For example, I’m not hugely fond of Gurren Lagann’s villains, but I really like the motivations that are revealed in the later episodes. Alternately, I absolutely love the lively characters that are Kill la Kill’s villains, but I don’t feel their motivations for villainy are anywhere near as strong or relatable as Gurren Lagann’s, which dampens their characterisation for me.

I will say, with some trepidation, that I think Kill la Kill’s visuals are far stronger than Gurren Lagann’s, or at the very least more consistent – Gurren Lagann has some absolutely amazing scenes, like the opening scene, the scene where Simon first leaves the underground and sees the planet’s surface, and many more besides, but I think Kill la Kill has more consistently good visuals throughout – so many memorable shots, like Kiryuin’s high-heel hitting the floor, the Godrobe transformation sequences, every single one of Mankanshoku’s chatty interludes… it’s such fun to watch.

That’s the real buzzword of this review – fun. When I was watching it, I wasn’t too hot on it at first. I was like “eh, Gurren Lagann was better”, and despite that, I couldn’t help but binge the whole thing in just a few days. It’s as anime as anime gets, and I could not be happier to have watched it. The side characters are entertaining, Ryuko and her allies are all incredibly fun, some of the ridiculous things that are revealed in later episodes (don’t even get me started on the wonderfully silly Nudist Beach) just make the show go beyond the ordinary.

As such, I highly recommend this one. I like Gurren Lagann for a lot of personal reasons, and I think that my opinion of it will probably diminish over time, but I believe that Kill la Kill is just as good, if not a little better. It’s zany, but the fun kind where the show has places to be and you’re just along for the ride, taking in all of the craziness with a smile on your face. Oh, and Before My Body Is Dry is an amazingly hype song. Probably worth watching Kill la Kill just for that, honestly. Don’t lose your way, people.

[Anime Review] Nichijou

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